As if it’s not bad enough to hear that my brother (and sister) riders in the UK are plagued by speed cameras, the latest news from across the pond is that the British government’s transportation department has supported the development of an anti-speeding system that uses GPS technology to determine if a rider is speeding, and will actually force the motorcycle to slow to the legal limit.
The system is currently being trialed on a small test track which has speed limits that have been mapped by satellite and then programmed into the control unit. Apparently a map of every road in the UK (with appropriate speed limits for each) is currently in the works.
When the speed control unit detects that the bike is speeding, it reduces speed by cutting fuel delivery to the engine – independent of rider input.
Now, we would hope that the British government will never take such draconian measures as making a system like this mandatory on all new bikes. However, it is obvious that they are considering doing so, since they spent the money to develop the system. Therefore I find it necessary to point out the incredibly obvious flaws in such a system.
Let’s set aside discussions of personal responsibility, excessive government intervention in personal life, etc. Leave that stuff to the political op-ed columnists. Since this is a motorcycle site, I’m going to focus on the safety aspects of implementing such a system on motorcycles.
Riding the streets of Southern California in the saddle of many different types of motorcycles, I can think of hundreds of times that I have used the acceleration of a motorcycle to move myself out of harm’s way. Indeed, I feel that most of the time it is safer to avoid danger by accelerating than by braking – if you are threatened by a vehicle in your line of sight, nailing the brakes will only expose you to further risk from vehicles approaching from the rear – and obviously, you can’t see those vehicles until they hit you.
Ever find yourself about to be squeezed into sandwich meat by two oblivious car drivers moving in on you from each side? In this situation, and many others, the safest escape is to accelerate out of harms way.
But wait – you’re already traveling 43mph in a 45mph zone. Your mind screams ‘DANGER!’, you spot the threat out of the corners of your eyes, and you give a quick snap of the throttle to get out of the way. Only you don’t get out of the way – because you’re not allowed to accelerate! Since you’re already traveling at the speed limit, you’re doomed to be smashed to bits. Or you can nail the brakes, and probably get rear-ended by a soccer mom in a Suburban with a cell phone in one hand and a kid’s ear in the other.
Now suppose you’re cruising down a two-lane highway – speed limit 55mph. You find yourself stuck behind a car going only 45mph. Normally, passing this driver would be instantaneous and simple – but not anymore. Running into that pesky speed limit just as you pull alongside him (in the opposing lane) could throw off your timing badly enough that you end up head-on with that oncoming semi.
How about that sweeping corner that you’re charging through at 53mph? Just make sure you don’t accidentally hit 56mph while you’re still leaned over – we all know the consequences of chopping the throttle while the bike is at full lean. It would be even worse if a computer chopped the throttle for you, so you weren’t even anticipating it.
Bottom line? A computerized speed control system is a flat-out stupid idea – one that was probably conceived by a desk bound bureaucrat who’s only experience with a motorcycle was when he saw Easy Rider as a teenager. I fervently hope that I never see the day when a system like this is implemented in the USA – because that would be the day I pack up and move to India, China, or some other country where I would be able to remain in full control of my own motorcycle at all times.